It’s hard to pinpoint exactly where to begin with Richard Burns Rally, a title which once temporarily graced store shelves in 2004 as a no-nonsense, hardcore alternative to the Colin McRae Rally series; designed specifically for the crowd who had grown bored with the virtual Rubiks Cube known as Grand Prix Legends. With the help of the late professional rally pilot and 2001 WRC champion Richard Burns, SCi Games set out to essentially construct a rally simulator nobody could play, and as a result, nobody bought. Though there was nothing inherently wrong when it came to the physics engine, the stages remained well within the realm of what would be deemed authentic rural roads, and the vehicles accurately exhibited the same performance characteristics of their real-life counterparts, Richard Burns Rally proved a set of titanium testicles were required to post competitive speeds on the WRC circuit. By comparison, a large portion of sim racers at the time didn’t even posses valid drivers licenses, so forcing these hobbyists to execute Scandinavian flicks with pinpoint accuracy wasn’t a recipe for success by any stretch of the imagination.
Needless to say, SCi Games disbanded, and Richard Burns Rally was deemed a commercial failure.
Determined to master what quickly established itself as the ultimate challenge in sim racing, an extremely small segment of the community worked tirelessly to master the in’s and out’s of Richard Burns Rally, discovering in the process that another developer had captured the magic of Sierra’s Grand Prix Legends in a relentless and grueling off-road nightmare that has undoubtedly been the cause of many smashed keyboards, controllers, and plastic steering wheels around the world. In a manner similar to Ninja Gaiden II or the Dark Souls franchise, sim racers wanting to subject themselves to a special kind of sadomasochistic hell began flocking to the world of Richard Burns Rally purely by word of mouth reports from others who had tried and failed to keep their Subaru pointed in the proper direction.
It took a few long years of dissecting the game’s file structure and figuring out how to reverse-engineer a one-off engine not used in other racing simulators, but a proper modding scene surrounding Richard Burns Rally eventually rose from the ashes of SCi’s demise. Yet due to the game’s semi-restricted format, installing new vehicles, stages, and external plugins to support rapid advances in home computer technology became a literal pain in the ass compared to the simplistic drag-and-drop format used in titles such as rFactor or GTR Evolution. To combat the arduous process of installing new content into the obscure rally simulator, the RSRBR mod packs were created to ease the process, though in reality they actually made matters worse. Richard Burns Rally fans were forced to download almost twenty gigabytes of additional content from a website with notoriously slow download speeds, forcing sim racers to set aside entire weekends just to update their Richard Burns Rally install – and do it all over again the following year when a new one was released.
This created a situation where most people have spent more time downloading and installing stuff for Richard Burns Rally than actually playing it. The few hardcore guys in the community merely accepted this task as part of the deal when diving head-first into the grueling simulator, but significantly more sim racers who otherwise would love to try out Richard Burns Rally in a casual setting, were instead turned off entirely.
An Argentinean website by the name of RBRPlus have offered a fantastic solution for those looking to get into Richard Burns Rally, yet can’t be assed polluting their computer with enormous amounts of additional content. As the original Richard Burns Rally is considered abandonware software, and SCi Games no longer exist as a developer, this mythical rally simulator is now freely available for all to download – which RBRPlus took advantage of for the benefit of the sim racing community.
RBRPlus have taken the base Richard Burns Rally install, along with both retail patches released by SCi, and injected them with all relevant third party plugins necessary to run the game on modern PC hardware – such as resolution fixes, support for multiple inputs, and performance tweaks to get the most out of the application. They’ve also replaced the default car roster and list of AI drivers with the full fleet of cars from the 2016 WRC championship and WRC2 support series, powered by a completely revitalized set of physics that have been re-built from the ground up and draw upon lessons learned from ten years worth of tire model advancements made in other racing simulators.
In short, these random guys from Argentina created the ultimate 2016 World Rally Championship simulator, and the free download – which is a stand-alone package that does not require the original game to function – weighs in at just 1.6 gigabytes.
It still looks like Richard Burns Rally, so that’s probably going to turn a few people off. While the stages are loaded with detail – and the Japan environment in particular is almost obsessive in the sheer number of plants and trees lining the side of the road – the lighting engine is straight out of 2003. The car models serve their purpose, but at first glance I was under the belief they had been ripped from one of the Kylotonn Games and hastily thrown into the Richard Burns Rally platform, a theory supported by the existence of websites like GameModels.ru.
I personally believe there have been a few environment texture updates added in here and there, but I’d chalk this up to the fact that I haven’t sat down with Richard Burns Rally and spent any serious amount of time with the game for a few years. There are some spots – particularly in the Finland stages during heavy snowfall – where the scenery looks fairly impressive, but you are indeed soon brought back to reality and reminded of the simulator’s age.
But the big topic people will want me to address is how this new set of revised physics stacks up againsthe original Richard Burns Rally driving model some of us have been accustomed to, and to that I have to say they’re absolutely brilliant. This is easily worth the ten minute download and thirty second install, especially if you’re feeling burned by WRC 6, have grown tired of DiRT Rally, or aren’t a big enough Milestone apologist to mess around with Sebastien Loeb Rally Evo.
The Richard Burns Rally 2016 Season package makes use of what the community have deemed NGP physics – a similar on-going science project akin to iRacing’s New Tire Model, where months upon months of revisions and alternative theories have gone into essentially reverse engineering everything to do with car-meets-road and car-goes-fast stuff under the hood of Richard Burns Rally. Whereas the original game’s physics turn the default selection of Mitsubishi’s, Subaru’s, and Toyota’s into literal rocket ships that can maintain crazy drift angles with minimal weight transfer effects, the NGP physics strive for car behavior on par with that of other racing simulators available on the market in 2016.
Force Feedback-wise, I didn’t have to touch anything – it’s that good. Out of the box, it feels like someone yanked everything you like about the overall steering wheel feeling found in RaceRoom Racing Experience, and somehow seamlessly converted the whole damn into this ancient rally simulator, a task that’s extremely impressive when you consider these are just random dudes doing all of this in their spare time. It’s a very comfortable feeling behind the wheel, and it gets light over crests and in sketchy sideways moments in the appropriate fashion to remind you that there’s an edge to what the car is capable of in RBR. The more you drive, the better it gets. The whole driving experience feels extremely natural in your hands, and this is super important considering many of these stages leave absolutely no room for error.
When we talk about the overall car behavior, it’s as if RBRPlus have dug into DiRT Rally and rectified most of the problems we’ve discovered with the Codemasters release over time, such as the ability to lug the car over ludicrous leaps at maximum attack with little regard for the car’s condition, as well as the super hero-like side forces acting on the car which keep it in check during extended drifting periods.
It’s very similar to DiRT Rally in that you can hit the stage at 70% attack and make it through unscathed, a far cry from the adolescent boot camp vibe of the vanilla game – which punished you for doing so much as breathing on the steering wheel out of time – but unlike DiRT Rally, there’s a very tangible limit to how retarded you can be. Though the cars are extremely planted and balanced by default, you can’t just send the thing sideways at will and expect it to stick – this is a driving model which rewards keeping the car balanced above all else. Drifting is no longer an all-encompassing answer, but a solution to a very specific type of corner. In some sectors, you can definitely push hard provided you know the layout of the circuit, but as the loading screens state, there are times where you indeed need to back it down and ride through a technical section.
The same comments, of course, can be said about the vanilla game and about rallying in general, but this is really the first time you can put this advice to good use in Richard Burns Rally. In the version of the simulator most of you are familiar with, dialing back your performance to 70% attack meant merely shifting down a gear and reducing your speed, but with the NGP physics, you can physically feel the steering wheel settle in your hands and the car regain the stability you’re seeking with its stance – because weight transfer and body roll are a lot more prevalent this time around. It’s this weird hybrid of DiRT Rally and Assetto Corsa, with the Force Feedback effects straight from Sector 3 – which is every bit as enjoyable as that sounds on paper.
Wet weather driving makes the new tire model come alive, as locations such as Japan really force you to pussy foot around technical sections and roll on the throttle gradually for the wet gravel tires to have a better shot at regaining grip. I can’t stand the Japan stages, they’re still a bit much for me, but I gained a new appreciation for them thanks to how I was required to drastically alter my driving style in a way that both made sense and felt natural – which can’t be said about the original game.
The original stages are still every bit as demanding as they were when the game first launched in 2004, but the key thing is your average sim racer will be able to complete many of them in a row without blasting into one of the several low poly spectators lining the route. Only when you push for competitive times and dig for every last bit of grip does the game bite back in the way we’ve come to expect from RBR, and it does so in a way that feels much more natural and justified than it did with the vanilla physics.
And unlike the RSRBR bundle of mods, Richard Burns Rally 2016 still functions as a complete game. The entire single player campaign mode has been overhauled to include the names and teams of the 2016 WRC season, allowing you to embark upon a five hour championship marathon if you choose to do so. To my surprise, the artificial intelligence have been re-engineered to produce elapsed times on par or sometimes better than the player’s performance, creating a highly compelling offline battle against the bots, but there are a few inaccuracies I’ve found during my own championship season. Sebastien Ogier of Volkswagen, who has won every WRC championship since Loeb’s retirement at the end of 2012, has failed to complete a single rally in a season and a half of gameplay on my end. Meanwhile, relatively unaccomplished WRC drivers such as Mads Ostberg, Kris Meek, Pierre-Louis Loubet, and Craig Breen, can consistently be seen fighting for the title.
Though the 2016 package earns points for how little time was required to configure everything – it was literally just a matter of entering my resolution in the INI file, mapping a few buttons to my wheel, and downloading CamHack for my custom cockpit position – it was definitely shitty to see such weird AI performances that hardly matched the real WRC standings.
As a whole, however, I’m certainly glad RBRPlus have put out their own custom rendition of Richard Burns Rally based solely on the 2016 WRC season, as it allows people who are unwilling to download a ridiculous amount of mod packages to indulge in the absolute best parts of what has been hailed as one of the greatest racing simulators ever. Weighing in at only 1.6 gigabytes, featuring all the top cars from the current WRC calendar, and bundling everything with a phenomenal set of rebuilt physics which draw upon ten years worth of tire model advancements in other simulators, you certainly owe it to yourself to check out Richard Burns Rally 2016. DiRT Rally has the presentation of an AAA-title, Sebastien Loeb has more content, and WRC 6 may have the official FIA World Rally Championship license, but Richard Burns Rally is still the king when it comes to the raw driving authenticity.